As the end of the school year approaches, expectations and anxiety begin to loom in equal measure. Prior to graduation, the notion that “now life really begins” fills people with giddy anticipation. However, there are several unexpected challenges that can take the young graduate by surprise, dismaying their parents who have been anxiously waiting for their offspring to spring into action, on their own two feet.
If you know about the looming pitfalls in advance, you can expect the unexpected and plan ahead, lessening the impact on the student’s relationship with his or herself and the relationship between parent and “child.”
Here are the three pitfalls to know about prior to graduation:
A sense of loss is likely. While graduation has been the main goal for many years, and there is a lot of excitement prior to it, afterwards there is an inevitable feeling of emptiness. The loss when friends move away and everything changes results in emotions of grief, depression and mourning. This is a very confusing reality to the young hopeful and their dismayed parents.
A transitional period of floundering, insecurity and lack of focus may be looming. Days once full of externally influenced activities—must-dos and timelines that to be kept—are quite suddenly, empty days needing to be filled from an internal drive. Graduates often don’t know what to do with unstructured time. School, while intended to be training for a career, doesn’t usually train people for life—how to get a job, how to manage relationships, or how to manage free time. In addition, after such a long period of work and study, relaxing for a while may seem preferable to a 40-hour-work week.
Jobs can be difficult to find. While we may graduate from school joyful about moving from learning to earning—it isn’t always quite that easy. Jobs in the career field of choice, in the location of choice, may not be available. And while jobs that do not require an education may be an option, sometimes attitude gets in the way of accepting that opportunity. There is a tendency to think that would be going backwards—for both parents and graduates.
I have worked with several brilliant college graduates and those freshly released from the military recently whom were challenged by their new set of circumstances in all of the above mentioned ways. So here are some things that can be done to help alleviate the conflict and stress:
Know that this period of grief and transition is normal. Expect and plan for it.
Give yourself something new to focus on. Set some goals, even out in the distant future, to look forward to after you’ve checked “Graduation” off the list.
Become entrepreneurial. Getting a job from someone else can be far more challenging than creating your own job, doing what you love. Here is the secret: Consider all the things you love to do and all the things you are good at. Look for where there is overlap. Then of the things that fall into both categories, consider how they could be used to help other people. Service is the magic recipe to making money doing what you enjoy doing.
Keep learning. Just because school is over, it doesn’t mean learning has to be. With the Internet, self-generated learning is easier than ever before. Learn about what was left out of your formal education—music, art, relationships, time mindfulness, spirituality, health—and yourself, to name a few.
Serve. When all else is postponed, use your talents to make a difference. Volunteer. Not only will this immediately plug you back into doing something that matters and enhancing your self-esteem, it looks great on your resume.
This transition to “being on your own” requires a shift from the external to the internal. Rather than following a schedule someone else generated for you, create your own list in alignment with who you are and what you want.
Remember, doing something is better than doing nothing. There is no shame in waitressing or car detailing while you move through this phase of life into what you really want to do—or as a stepping-stone to owning your own business.